Healthcare Groups Put $1.6 Million on Board for Campaigns Since Fall

The spending by doctors groups, nurses, hospitals, dentists and insurers helps underwrite legislators’ campaigns, as political action committees seek to influence legislation and the state budget in Oregon. Groups that gave less have had considerably less clout in Salem.

Oregon’s leading healthcare organizations spent liberally during the election season and its aftermath, with just 12 groups topping $1.6 million in spending since Sept. 1.

This money is on top of the $1.2 million spent by healthcare groups and key unions over the summer and $1.3 million spent during the primary campaign.

The biggest healthcare spender was the Oregon Health Care Association, which spent $331,000 in that short time frame -- money that’s on top of earlier funds. In total, it’s spent about $595,000 since 2013.

The health care association, which represents nursing homes, assisted living centers and other senior-focused healthcare facilities, directed much of its money to Democratic political action committees rather than individual candidates, giving $25,000 to the state party and $20,000 to House Democrats, who increased their majority by one seat in November. The Senate Democrats, who added two seats, received $10,000.

The health care association lobbies for more money for senior services, which has been a priority for the legislative budget committee, including a special fund with revenue drawn from changes to the senior medical tax exemption.

The Oregon Health Care Association also gave $20,000 to a new group that supports Democrats -- Oregon Priorities PAC, which started filing contributions in October from the Oregon Education Association, the Service Employees International Union and Michael Bloomberg’s gun control lobby, Everytown for Gun Safety.

Gov. John Kitzhaber was the top individual to receive money from the Oregon Health Care Association this fall, with $15,000. But the group showed its bipartisan patina by supporting Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, and his failed re-election bid with $13,000.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, was close behind Starr, receiving $12,500, while Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, received $10,000. Winters ran unopposed as she won a fourth term in office this fall, but she has used her influence as a moderate Republican on the Committee of Ways & Means to become a deciding vote on how money is spent on healthcare and human services.

Hospital Association

The second-biggest healthcare spender this fall was the Oregon Hospital Political Action Committee, with $255,000. The spending for the committee, affiliated with the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, came after a quiet summer in which it spent just $12,000, and a primary campaign in which it spent $112,000.

Like earlier campaigns, the hospitals PAC supported Republican lawmakers while also putting its money toward Democratic Gov. Kitzhaber, who enjoyed an overwhelming fundraising advantage over his Republican opponent, Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point.

Kitzhaber received $10,000 from the hospitals PAC this fall, the same amount given to House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Prineville. Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, topped them both, receiving $11,500.

Starr received $9,000 while Rep. Knute Buehler, who won election for the first time to the Bend district, took in $8,500. Kotek, the hospitals’ favorite Democratic lawmaker, also received $8,500.

Coalition for a Healthy Oregon

The Coalition for a Healthy Oregon, like the hospitals, also waited for the fall to file campaign contributions -- recording $226,0000 in donations after not reporting any in the summer. The coalition’s total spend for the general election was 50 percent more than the $149,000 spent on the primary, bringing its total campaign spending this cycle to $375,000.

The coalition is comprised of doctors organizations across western Oregon that have been heavily involved in the operation of several of the coordinated care organizations, including FamilyCare in Portland. Its biggest donation, $35,000, was reserved for Kitzhaber -- a former emergency room physician in Roseburg.

Like the other healthcare organizations, COHO supported Sen. Starr as its top lawmaker, with $30,000 given toward his failed re-election campaign against Sen. Chuck Riley. (Riley received $1,000 from the group in an apparent attempt to save face -- after the election.)

The Legislature’s osteopathic physician, Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, received $25,000 from COHO in his own close re-election race. Kotek received $12,500, while Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin -- who presides over the state’s budget -- received $9,000.

Doctors for Healthy Communities -- a separate political action committee that’s affiliated with COHO but primarily rooted in a group of Salem physicians -- spent $159,000 on top of COHO’s $226,000.

These doctors gave $25,000 to Kitzhaber; $7,500 to Bates and $6,000 to Rep. Betty Komp, whose district stretches from north Salem to Woodburn. Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, who was not up for re-election, but plays a critical role as a moderate Democrat, also received $6,000.

The Salem doctors also gave $5,000 to House Majority Leader Val Hoyle, D-Eugene, and to two local Salem politicians, Republican Sen. Winters and Democratic Rep. Brian Clem.

Oregon Nurses Association

The Oregon Nurses Association took fourth in healthcare political spending this fall after the doctors’ groups -- putting down $188,000. Its money went overwhelmingly to Democrats, with a few moderate Republicans also receiving smaller checks of $1,000.

A new legislator, Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, topped the nurses’ list, receiving $25,000. McLain ran for an open seat in a swing district after Rep. Ben Unger decided to serve only one term.

The nurses also gave $25,000 to Kitzhaber.

The PAC’s second pick for the Legislature -- Democrat and former Clackamas County Commissioner Jamie Damon -- was not as successful as McLain, and lost her Senate race to incumbent Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, despite $17,000 from the Oregon Nurses Association.

The nurses association also worked to prop up vulnerable freshman lawmakers -- giving $15,000 each to Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-East Portland, and Rep. Joe Gallegos, D-Hillsboro.

The Oregon Nurses Association had also been heavily involved in the primary campaign, spending $116,000 this spring, including $30,000 on one of their own, labor representative- turned-Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland. Nosse needed little support to win the general election in his overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Oregon Medical Association

The Oregon Medical Association’s spending was just under $100,000 this fall, with Rep. Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon, receiving its top gift, $9,000. Two other doctors -- Bates and Kitzhaber -- came in second and third, receiving $6,500 and $5,000 respectively.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, received $4,500 from the medical association, while Kotek took in $3,000.

The Dentists of Oregon were next in spending with $89,400, followed closely by the Oregon Ambulatory Surgical Centers, which spent $81,600.

Both groups are emerging players on the campaign finance scene, spending much more than previously recorded.

Kotek received $11,000 from the dentists, and her partner in the House Democratic leadership, Hoyle, received $6,000. The dentists supported both the Senate Republicans with $11,000 and the Senate Democrats with $6,000.

A second dental group, The Low Income Dental PAC, which is affiliated with Advantage Dental, spent $77,500. A large portion of that money, $32,000, was spent on Republican Dan Mason’s failed campaign against Rep. Gallegos in Hillsboro. But this group was also bipartisan: Hoyle received $15,000 while McLane took in $14,000.

The bulk of the ambulatory centers’ campaign contributions were recorded for lobbying firms, particularly Pac/West Communications, with $29,900. But several candidates received sizable checks, including Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, with $3,000; Hoyle with $2,500 and Roblan with $1,500.

Regence

A traditional big spender, the Regence Oregon PAC, was quieter this year than past elections -- spending $79,000 in campaign contributions since Sept. 1. Regence was the only healthcare spender with lopsided support in favor of Republicans.

Its top three candidates all lost, including Starr, who received $10,000; Steve Newgard, who received $7,000 but failed to unseat Rep. Brent Barton, D-Gladstone; and Mark Richman, $5,500, who lost to McLain for a Hillsboro seat.

Kathy Goss, who received $5,000 from the Regence PAC, also lost an open seat to Democrat Paul Evans, in a West Salem seat that flipped from Democratic to Republican after the retirement of Rep. Vicki Berger.

Regence had better luck supporting Olsen with $5,000 for Senate in Clackamas County. Republican leader McLane also took $5,000 from Regence.

Two smaller groups, the Oregon Optometric PAC and the Oregon Physical Therapy PAC spent $21,500 and $4,700 respectively.

The Oregon Optometric Society has been pushing to get more eye screenings for children, and it represents a sector of the healthcare industry largely left out the CCO reforms, since adults on the Oregon Health Plan are not offered optometric care, unlike Medicaid programs in other states.

The optometrists gave $2,000 to McLane, $1,500 to Kotek and $1,250 to Knopp.

The physical therapists were active in the 2013 Legislature, winning passage of a bill designed to end anti-competitive practices by hospitals, but their bill was largely neutered by the Oregon Health Authority, which, under pressure from hospitals and doctors, refused to implement the law according to the wishes of its sponsors, Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland and Sen. Larry George, R-Sherwood.

George is now retired and Shields received no money from the physical therapists in 2014; the PAC gave $1,000 checks to Hoyle, Bates, Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland.

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